Wall Street set to divvy up bonuses

Wall Street employees, whose paychecks have often been cut in recent years, are likely to get a slight bump in their bonuses this year. The catch: The increase will come on top of one of the worst years for bank pay in recent memory.

Year-end incentives, which include cash bonuses and stock awards, will be flat to up to 10 percent higher when compared with last year, according to a closely watched compensation survey to be released Monday. But firms drastically cut costs, employment and, as a result, pay, in 2011.

"It has been a slow recovery, just like the economy," said Alan Johnson, managing director of Johnson Associates, the privately held firm that conducted the survey. "Following a year when year-end incentives declined by as much as 30 percent, the fact that many firms are able to keep this year's bonuses flat or slightly larger is notable."

Johnson Associates, based in New York, surveyed 10 public asset management firms, eight major banks and more than a dozen other financial institutions.

Business on Wall Street has picked up somewhat in 2012, but firms are still cutting both compensation and other expenses to save money and improve their profits.

Roy C. Smith, a professor of finance at New York University, said firms had cut positions since the financial crisis as revenue fell. Firms are also contending with regulations that are forcing them to sell off certain segments, or at least cut back.

"They are cutting back as much as they can get away with," he said.

Wall Street firms set aside money all year for bonuses and allocate it to employees after they know their year-end results. Top executives and boards are now starting to think about who will make what, and the stakes are high.

Roughly half of all the revenue generated on Wall Street goes toward compensation, and most of it is paid as a year-end bonus. So far this year, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup have set aside $92.49 billion to pay employees, down slightly from $92.81 billion in the year ago period, according to Johnson Associates.

It's too early to tell what this will mean for individual bonuses in early 2013. Investors will know in January when fourth-quarter results are announced how much firms have set aside to cover compensation and benefits.

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